Friday, October 21, 2011

1. Bone Dog

Written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
$16.99, ages 4-8, 32 pages

As a dog comes to the end of her life, she promises her boy she'll always watch over him, then stays true to her word, pattering down from the sky on Halloween to scare away graveyard goons.

In this uplifting, sweet picture book, Caldecott Medalist Rohmann shows a boy confronting the pain of losing a pet, but finding comfort in the thought of his dog's spirit following along above him.

Gus has loved Ella for as long as he can remember; he's loved riding on her back as she charged across the field with a pack of dog friends at her side. But now, Ella's coming to the end of her life and it's time for her to say goodbye.

As a harvest moon slides up over the hill, Gus sits in the grass with his arm around Ella as she tells him she'll soon go away, but that she'll always look over him. "A promise made under a full moon cannot be broken," she says.

By the next spread, Ella has passed away and Gus is weighted with grief. Losing his dog has taken the fun out of everything, even dressing up and going out trick-or-treating. But it's Halloween and no one misses wandering door-to-door.

Dressed as a skeleton, Gus heads off alone into the night, his body slouched, reflecting how his heart feels. The dogs from the neighborhood tilt their heads in his direction, tuned into the loneliness he feels.

After Gus fills up his bag, he wanders back toward home and as he crosses the graveyard, he comes upon a fantastical sight all aglow in the full moon.

Skeletons are crawling out from behind tombstones and rattling about. They run to him because they think he's a skeleton too. But when the boy pulls off his mask to reveal he's really just a boy, the skeletons grow mischievous and try to chase him.

Suddenly up in the dark sky, a wagging bone dog comes running down to the boy; it's the spirit of his beloved Ella, watching out for him. But what can a shaggy-tailed bone dog do to scare a slew of skeletons?

The skeletons scoff at the idea of being intimidated by a ghosty little dog, but little do they know, this bone dog can still howl.

And what happens when a dog howls? Every dog within hearing range comes running. But not just any dogs, Ella's neighborhood pack. And what could be more fun for dogs to chase than bones scattering through the air?

Though it might seem odd to choose a book that deals with grief for a Halloween list, Bone Dog doesn't dwell on the sad. It lays loss out there, a reality all kids share, then makes it OK to move on.

With the finesse of a seasoned book maker, Rohmann sweeps the boy into the spirit of the holiday and cheers his healing heart -- making Halloween once more one of the happiest nights of a child's year.

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